Legal Dispute Hangs Over State Fair Negotiations

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Last week, when the Metro Board of Fair Commissioners approved what was presented as a final lease offer to the Tennessee State Fair Association, they did so with the belief that they have a choice in the matter.

After months of back-and-forth with the TSFA, the nonprofit chosen by a new state commission to run the 2013 state fair, the Metro fair board said the terms of their latest offer — one under which they say they would still lose money — were more than fair. If the TSFA balks, fair board chairmen Ned Horton said, "all bets are off." The implication is that the board could explore other options to fill the dates reserved for the 2013 Tennessee State Fair, and let the TSFA take the state fair outside of Davidson County, where it has been for over 100 years.

Metro officials believe that a state law passed last year, which moved oversight of the fair from Metro to the state, effectively invalidated the city's legal obligation to host the state fair at the fairgrounds. The TSFA disagrees. So while the two groups debate over the terms of a lease, a disagreement about whether the two groups are required to work together — and thereby, who has the real leverage in the negotiations — has come to the fore.

From this week's issue of The City Paper:

TSFA chairman John Rose, who has been representing the group throughout the negotiations, cited the Metro charter and city ordinances requiring the city to host the state fair at the fairgrounds, and argued the state law did nothing to change that obligation. The implication is that Metro has no choice but to sign a lease with whomever the state commission selects to run the fair — in this case, the TSFA.

“Of course, they don’t like that, but if you think about it, what’s that mean?” Rose told The City Paper after the recent fair board meeting. “It means that they have to provide this space for a state fair annually, and they have to let whoever the commission appoints to run it, run it. Well that seems kind of harsh, right? ‘Here’s who you have to let run a fair.’ However, think about the school board. They have to run the schools on the budget that the council gives them.”

If there are financial obstacles that would keep the fair board from agreeing to a deal with the TSFA, Rose said, Metro must overcome them.

“I think the current posture is that the council is obligated to abide by the charter, which says there will be a state fair here,” he said. “So the financial burden presently is on Davidson County to fund the fairgrounds sufficiently to provide for a state fair.”

The fair board, under advisement from Metro’s legal department, feels that by usurping the city’s control of the event, the state effectively nullified Metro’s obligation to host the fair in Davidson County. In other words, they believe, if the fair board can’t come to agreeable terms with the TSFA, they don’t have to play ball.

“I don’t think we’re required to enter into a bad deal, no,” Horton said. “We can have a fair. We believe we can have any kind of fair we want. In fact if they do have that name [the Tennessee State Fair] — which is open to some debate — if they do, we can have another fair that benefits the people of Davidson County and the state of Tennessee.”

Read the whole story here.

The TSFA board will meet tomorrow and, presumably, decide whether to accept the fair board's offer, which expires on Wednesday.

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